American concert pianist Jason Paul Peterson has been described as "a national phenomenon” by The Milwaukee Journal, and a musician of "technical brilliancy” by Polonaise Magazine.
At age 17, Mr. Peterson was awarded a grant from the Chopin Foundation of the United States, Inc., and subsequently became the first-ever four-time recipient of the award. He is the winner of the 2006 Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition, and has recently been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for study at the Hochschüle für Musik in Freiburg, Germany.
You are already an accomplished performer. If you could have your career develop in any direction, what would you like most to do musically?
One of my favorite parts of being a musician is the constant variety of the work. I enjoy performing solo and concerto literature immensely, but I am also a great lover of chamber music and accompanying. I also enjoy teaching. My primary aim is to keep making music at the highest possible level, and to share my love for this music with as many people as possible.
Given your rather rigorous performance schedule, how do you find the time to study new repertoire, and on what basis do you decide a piece is "performance ready?"
This is an interesting question. In order to maintain any sort of performing schedule, one must be continually learning new music, often in short periods of time. The secret is to practice efficiently. The pianist must become a sort of “musical doctor”- quickly diagnosing the problems through careful listening, and determining the practice technique that provides the best remedy.
When I'm preparing for a performance, I spend a portion of my time practicing as if I'm on stage. I find that some musicians are generally in two completely different mental states when practicing and when performing. This causes problems, and I try to find ways to close the gap. There's a well-known phrase among musicians- “Practice as if you're on stage performing, and when you're on stage, play as if you're at home practicing.” Other things that help include playing for friends before the performance and rehearsing the piece mentally away from the piano.
Why have you chosen to pursue doctoral studies? Do you consider them distinct from your work as a performer, or does one inform the other, and if so, how?
A doctoral degree is often a necessity for college teaching positions, and I would very much like to work with dedicated music students at the university level. The opportunity to study at Peabody with Alexander Shtarkman, a musician I admire greatly, was quite enticing, and the program has an especially demanding performance requirement of six full recitals, which appealed to me as well. The instruction and experiences I've had there have undoubtedly made me a better performer; I must say, however, that I try not to let the degree program itself become the primary focus of my activities. Conservatories are wonderfully protective bubbles for classical musicians, but we can't just keep playing for each other. There are far too many places in the outside world that need to experience great music.
Who are your favorite composers to play, and why?
I've never been able to provide a good answer for this question, because the answer is continually changing. Like many musicians, I have a great love of Bach, and studied his works constantly in earlier years. But on any given day my preference may be for Beethoven, Messiaen, Scriabin, Brahms, Liszt, or Mozart. Every great composer has meaningful things to say, and we are blessed to have such a vast body of great musical literature from which to choose.
That being said, I find myself gravitating more toward Schubert these days. Although the notes don't always lie as well under the hands as with later Romantic composers, the music itself is of such a noble and pure quality that it transcends these problems. On the other end of the scale, I find particular fascination with the works of Scriabin, which often display a sort of frenetic, unbounded energy unmatched by any other composer. I'm also playing less Chopin than I used to, and more Schumann. But who knows? That could change again.
With your having won so many prizes, grants, and scholarships, how would you say the Bradshaw & Buono has helped your career?
Naturally, the opportunity to perform for a rather large crowd in Carnegie's Weill Hall was wonderful. The piano and acoustics are fabulous. But even more importantly, I enjoyed meeting the many professional musicians in the audience and talking with the other competitors, some of whom I'd met before. The competition provides both a great performance opportunity as well as an excellent opportunity to network with other students and professionals, and best of all, the competition atmosphere seems to be a very friendly and supportive one.
On your website you have a page called "Publicity Materials" in which you offer suggestions to other pianists for effective publicity. Given that the rest of the site features information about you, why have you chosen to do this?
Actually, my reasons are entirely selfish! Occasionally I've arrived to play a concert only to find that the presenters have done very little publicity for it. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing, “What a fabulous concert! If only more people had known about it.” Now, when I'm performing at a place other than a concert hall with staff that deals with publicity on a regular basis, I'll refer the presenters to this page just in case they need some ideas about how to spread the word.